With his powers rapidly approaching godlike levels, Jericho must put an end to Old Man Deathstroke’s path of destruction before anyone else dies. Unfortunately, Joey’s attention is a little divided as he struggles to come to terms with the egregious abuse of his enhanced powers. Has Luthor’s gift coerced him to the dark side? And, perhaps, most importantly:
“What makes a man a ‘villain?'”
With only one issue remaining, Deathstroke #49 has the unenviable task of preparing a series of nearly fifty issues for its finale. Thankfully, Priest does an excellent job of not only answering many of this finale storyline’s longstanding questions, but also setting the stage for the series’ final climactic battle with Slade’s worst enemy: himself. Aside from Pasarin’s incredible artwork, what makes this work so successful is how Priest thematically frames the story with Jericho’s question: “What makes a man a ‘villain?'”
This question is a perfect theme to encapsulate this series. Not only does it reflect Jericho’s doubt regarding his current alignment, but it also allows Priest to summarize Slade’s twisted ethics perfectly. During the “Batman vs. Deathstroke” storyline, Priest drew comparisons between the Dark Knight and the master assassin. These comparisons illustrated how each of the two characters sought to accomplish the same goals, however, to put it bluntly, Slade kills. Killing is not something that Slade views as wrong, but instead, a necessity for permanently ending the conflict. And for as much as he sees himself as ridding the world of bad people — albeit for money — this is not what makes him a villain.
One of the larger debates that Priest has focused on throughout “Deathstroke R.I.P” has been the notion of “nature versus nurture.” We’ve seen this come up several times as Rose attempts to cope with the loss of her father. More specifically, is she destined to become like her father, or can she break this cycle of violence? For all of the evil that Slade has done, his most heinous acts may be in how he has impacted his children. Although his children may be considered his one true weakness, there is no denying the damage he has inflicted upon them.
Deathstroke #49 presents a perfect marriage between these two themes. Throughout his battle with Old Man Slade, Jericho lists off several characteristics that we typically associate with villains: selfishness, pride, arrogance, lacking strength of character, and refusing to accept responsibility. However, his words to the assassin suggest that there are deeper reasons for one to turn to villainy.
Having realized that Old Man Deathstroke is from an alternate Earth, Jericho makes a note of his embrace with Wintergreen. As a result, Joey suspects that Wintergreen’s death in Old Man Deathstroke’s reality left the assassin’s darker instincts unchecked. As a result, Old Man Deathstroke is more liberal with his policy on murder. With these comments, Priest is suggesting that “nurture” plays a part in what makes a man a villain. Additionally, Jericho states that his desire for Slade’s approval is what ultimately led him to evil — thereby suggesting that the lack of a nurturing father figure is what led him to pursue his father down this path.
Priest’s ability to weave meaningful and often introspective themes into a superhero narrative is one of the things that I love most about this series. Sometimes, you may have to do a little work to understand all the references that Priest makes and draw the necessary connections between all the story’s moving parts. However, it is always worth it. In the end, this title serves as an excellent character study of Deathstroke, whose themes will resonate with readers.
“I’ve been falling down staircases ever since.”
Fernando Pasarin’s artwork is perfect here. When combined with Oclair Albert and Vincente Cifuentes’ inks and Jeremy Cox’s colors, Pasarin’s pencils do a great job of conveying the appropriate tone for each moment. The opening pages showing Jericho hovering above the Earth are poster-worthy. Additionally, the pages depicting the battle with Old Man Deathstroke in the atmosphere are wonderful. Without spoiling anything, the art team does an excellent job conveying the body horror that accompanies death in outer space.
Ultimately, Deathstroke #49 does an excellent job of not only answering many of this finale storyline’s longstanding questions, but also setting the stage for Slade’s battle against himself. My only complaint is Deathstroke’s absence in the series’ penultimate issue. However, Slade does know how to make an entrance. The artwork punctuates the titular character’s return with an excellent final page that has me excited for the series finale.